Last week, the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board sat down with the Bureau of Land Management to discuss the issue of rangeland in the West.
The Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, have been tasked with caring for the estimated remaining 46,000 wild horses in 10 Western states of the country since the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. The horse herds are now considered overpopulated and, unfortunately, the sustainable resources in the rangeland are diminishing.
The National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board, an independent group comprised of members of the public, and the BLM sat down in Elko, Nevada last week to discuss all options. After the first recommendation to euthanize the wild horses judged to be unadoptable "was recognized as being the least socially palatable," the group discussed alternative solutions.
One of the members of the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board, Ben Masters, suggested targeting certain wild horse populations and administering birth control. He also stressed how frustrated he was about inheriting this mess and how difficult it would now be to leave an untouched rangeland to future generations. Masters is 27.
Another option put on the table was to remove the herds completely from the rangeland in order to restore grouse habitat. But there wasn't much of a specific plan for this suggestion.
The final decision follows the language in the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act: "by offering all suitable animals in long and short term holding deemed unadoptable for sale without limitation or humane euthanasia. Those animals deemed unsuitable for sale should then be destroyed in the most humane manner possible."
This decision has sparked outrage across the country. The Humane Society Senior Vice President of Programs & Innovations Holly Hazard said in a statement:
"The decision of the BLM advisory board to recommend the destruction of the 45,000 wild horses currently in holding facilities is a complete abdication of responsibility for their care."
"What this means is that we will continue with our current policy, which is not to sell or send wild horses or burros to slaughter," said a spokesman for the BLM. He stressed that they are doing everything they can to accommodate the horses, while doing what's best for the rangeland.
"These are public lands and the horses are a symbol of the history of the Old West. We screen buyers and we screen adopters."
The BLM spent $49 million in 2015 caring for off-range wild horses and burros. Off-range pastures are holding facilities where wild horses and burros are kept until they can be adopted out.
The Humane Society still criticizes the BLM saying: "Over the past 20 years, the BLM has maintained round-up and removal as a primary management strategy for wild horse and burro populations on America's western rangelands - an effort which has led to a financially unsustainable Wild Horse and Burro Program. By focusing massive efforts on removing horses and burros from the range, without treating those horses remaining on the range with any form of fertility control to limit population growth, holding facilities throughout the United States have become overburdened."
The problem the BLM now faces is the fact that the rangeland cannot sustain the wild horse population with the resources available. Many horses are dying from starvation and lack of water.
The BLM has since called off the plan to euthanize unadoptable horses after public outcry and will make more decisions in the coming months.